The locals of the Crescent City took to the streets wearing costumes that lambasted the local, state and federal administrations — the FEMA-themed disguises were countless, and President George W. Bush was hardly popular — but the overall and overwhelming attitude was less about laying blame and more about rebuilding a nearly razed city.
And despite the Texas and Alabama license plates that crowded the narrow but picturesque streets, it was all about bring the Big Easy back — with New Orleans style.
“We are European here,” Meredith Grover, a 29-year-old interior designer and New Orleans resident, said. “We walk, we drink coffee and eat fancy food.”
In the French Quarter, where most of the mobs of tourists milled, the ladies on the filigreed balconies had no problem tossing their plastic wares to the crowds below, yet the coveted fancy beads of the day were more likely to hit a man dressed as a FEMA-blue tarped house than an actual FEMA tarp.
“I got roped into it last Friday,” said Dean Miller, a 51-year-old Detroit Lakes, Minn., resident. “But I’ve seen a lot of people walking around.”
Walking around New Orleans-style, that is.
“You wake up, you see naked people. You catch beads. You go home,” Grover said.
Others were less optimistic about the city’s chances of a complete comeback.
“It should be busier than this,” said a woman whose first name was Heather, who had lived in New Orleans for eight years.
The crowds both cheered and jeered, yelling about their place in a “chocolate city,” the phrase Nagin coined when he made a much-televised and much-ridiculed speech about the repopulation of New Orleans and its eventual racial make-up.
The mayor had famously called for the African-Americans who’d formed the majority of the population and left the city to return to the Crescent City on Martin Luther King Day.
The African-American parade made its historic route this Fat Tuesday — with relatively slight modifications — but its members, dispersed by Hurricane Katrina, were there.
The coveted coconuts — painted and decorated with sparkles and painted Zs — found their way into revelers’ hands, though the crowds seemed more consumed with a good time than a formal ritual celebration of the rebirth of New Orleans.
Almost exactly six months after Hurricane Katrina, crowds from the Crescent City took this Mardi Gras to celebrate a chance to take a breather — a chance to set aside garbage pick-up, hour-long grocery lines and magazine-subscription cessation — to let it all hang out.